Professor John Proctor
September 23, 2013
Breaking news is nothing new and the news cycles that surround it haven’t changed much since there were news cycles. NPR’s On the Media does a good job in detailing the history of breaking news and the missteps the media has made along the way. The Titanic was reported to not have sunk, JFP was presumed dead, alive, then dead again numerous times, Gabby Giffords was pronounced dead by NPR even though she survived a gunshot the head.
The segments focusses on key words and phrases that all the news outlets use that most viewers aren’t’ aware of. For instance, “we’re receiver reports” means its not confirmed but there getting information by some a somewhat trustful source. “Confirmed” means that someone has gone on record and is applicable to comment on the news. “CNN has learned” or “Insert Media Outlet here has learned” usually means that particular media outlet has information others do not have yet.
Competition in media drives errors. Networks and news outlets want to keep you locked into their portal so they hope new information will keep viewers/listeners/readers on their channels/site etc. instead of going to another source, even if it’s momentarily. What happens is the public is constantly misinformed as breaking news takes place. If you were watching cable news the day of the school shooting in Newton, you might have thought that Adam Lanza’s brother, Ryan Lanza was the Newton shooter even though it was Adam. Within seconds of this being reported, his Facebook was found, he received death threats and his like of video games because the subject of national conversation because it was new information they could give you in between the updated causality count.
HBO’s The Newsroom does a good job of illustrating this phenomenon. Note that The Newsroom is a fictional show but is written to reflect real world events such as the Gabby Giffords. When congresswoman Gabby Giffords is shot in Arizona every news wire is saying she’s dead and the anchor of the program has a network executive telling him to report her dead because “that’s the business he’s in”, another member of the staff steps in and says “a doctor reports her dead not us”. This episode was clearly in response to how the media jumped to the conclusion that because congresswoman Giffords has been shot in the head she must be dead, and how the media should do the right thing and wait for official confirmation, instead of worrying about ratings for the next half hour, but in reality that doesn’t happen and as the segment said, there will always be a non-existent “second-shooter”.